Whenever I hear someone say they don’t like gnocchi, I wonder if it’s because they’ve only had the dense, chewy flavorless lumps that occur when the dough is overworked.
That’s not how it should be.
At its best, gnocchi is light and fluffy – and will literally melt in your mouth. One of the best ways to achieve this potato dumpling nirvana is to keep your hands off the dough as much as possible. The heat from your hands with activate the gluten in the flour – which makes the gnocchi more dense – especially if you over-knead it.
Instead use a pastry scraper, like the one pictured at right, to chop and turn the dough until the flour is thoroughly combined. (affiliate link)
There are a ton of opinions out there about how to make the “perfect” potato gnocchi, but the truth is, there isn’t just one way to do it. One person’s masterpiece is another’s culinary disaster.
It really comes down to personal preference and skill level. The only way to develop either is to jump in and test it out for yourself.
Light and Fluffy Potato Gnocchi
2 pounds russet or other starchy potatoes
1 egg yolk, slightly beaten
1½ cups flour
pinch nutmeg (optional)
Coarse sea salt
Tip: Many gnocchi recipes call for boiling the potatoes before ricing them. This, however, increases the amount of flour needed to offset the added moisture from boiling – and too much flour can lead to dense, chewy dumplings. Roasting the potatoes on a bed of coarse salt in a hot oven will reduce the amount of moisture in your potatoes.
Preheat oven to 425˚
Pierce each potato all over with a fork and place on baking tray covered with a thin layer of coarse salt. The coarse layer of salt should form a bed for the potatoes while they are baking. Bake in pre-heated oven until tender, approximately 1 hour.
Remove potatoes from oven and allow to cool slightly. When they are just cool enough to handle, cut each potato in half and scrape the still hot flesh out with a spoon. Quickly transfer the hot potato flesh into a ricer or food mill.
Evenly distribute the riced potato flesh onto a clean work surface and drizzle with the egg yolk. Add nutmeg to the mixture, if desired. (It’s a nice touch – try it!)
Next, sprinkle one cup of flour evenly across the potato egg mixture and use your pastry scraper to chop and scrape the dough until the flour is thoroughly worked into your dough. If you don’t have a pastry scraper, use your hands, but knead the dough as little as possible to work in the flour.
Add remaining flour and continue chopping and scraping (or folding and kneading) just until it reaches a consistency similar to pizza dough. The total amount of flour needed will depend on how much moisture are in the potatoes and how “wet” your dough is to start.
Note: The goal is to work the dough until the key ingredients are evenly distributed throughout. Do not overwork or add too much flour as this will make the dumplings tough and chewy.
Break the dough into small portions and roll each portion into long ½” ropes with the palms of your hands. Then cut each rope into ½” pieces along its length. To get the classic gnocchi ridge marks, gently roll each small piece across the tines of a fork while pressing gently with your thumb.
To cook, drop pieces into heavily salted, rapidly boiling water. The salt will flavor the finished dumplings.
As soon as they float to the top, remove them with a slotted spoon and drop into a cold-water bath to stop them from cooking further.
Serve topped with your favorite tomato sauce, garlic butter or fresh basil pesto.
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